Heidelcast 57: Why We Can’t Move On (3)

Revisionism isn’t always a bad thing. I am a revisionist myself. I’ve been trying to help people see the history of Reformed theology rather differently from the way it was often presented from the middle of the 19th century through the 1970s. The story that predominated in that period was, in many respects, not well grounded in the sources. Nevertheless, some attempts to revise the accepted story about the past are also misguided and for the same reason: they are not well grounded in the facts and in the original sources. There has been an attempt to rehabilitate some of the leading Federal Visionists. Molly Worthen, writing in Christianity Today, noted in 2009 that the principal advocate of the self-described Federal Vision movement has transformed himself into a defender of the faith. Nevertheless, facts are, as they say, stubborn things. The fact is that Norman Shepherd taught (and teaches) justification through faith and works (or faithfulness). According to Shepherd, it is our works, not Christ’s righteousness for us, that makes faith what it is. He teaches the Roman definition of faith (formed by love). If the revisionist story is allowed to stand unchallenged, students, elders, pastors, and others who may not have read Shepherd for themselves, who may not know how he was originally understood, who may not have seen how his advocates defended him originally, may be misled into thinking that his critics were opposed to the teaching of James 2. They weren’t. If you haven’t heard parts 1 and 2, you might want to listen to Heidelcast episodes 55 and 56.

Here’s episode 57:

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  1. Scott,

    Have listened to all three broadcasts and I have a question for you. In light of John Frame’s historic revisionism concerning Norman Shepherd, how to we account for the glowing reviews of his volume, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief?

    A short list of those in the PCA who commend this book include: Ligon Duncan (RTS Jackson), Michael Kruger (RTS Charlotte) Peter Lillback (Westminster Philadelphia), Michael Milton (Fourth president of RTS), Luder Whitlock Jr. (Knox Theological Seminary), Steve Brown, Claire Davis, Sam Logan, William Edgar, Richard Gamble, Peter Jones, Kelly Kapic, Doug Kelly. Even J.I. Packer gives the volume high praise. I’m more than a little surprised at the adulation in light of what you have documented as Frame’s historical revisionism.

    I suppose they made their comments based on an excerpt provided by the publisher or perhaps the book is so large that they only had time to sample certain sections.

    I don’t know John Frame and never had him as a professor. I have no ax to grind but given what you’ve exposed I am troubled.

  2. I much enjoy his writing, but if a leaf happened to blow through his study window and onto his desk, he’d write an endorsement of it.

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